The Facility Review
In 2008 Vertigo Films teamed up with the National Film and Television School to form the Vertigo School Project. The aim of the initiative was to produce three micro-budgeted British features based on proposals from NFTS students and graduates. There were no restrictions in terms of approach – live action, animation and documentary were all possibilities – and the winning trio were announced the following year. Lustre, written by Mahalia Rimmer, would be a tale of two young girls whose private games take on darker consequences. Guinea Pigs, written and directed by Ian Clark, would offer up horror thrills as eight volunteers for a drugs trial undergo unexpected changes. And The State would provide a dystopian post-war on terror future as conceived by Masood Khan and Shakil Mohammed. First out of the traps is Guinea Pigs, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival last June.
Clark had made his graduation film for the NFTS in 2008. Outcasts was a half-hour short about an anarchic gang of misfits (each of whom has a disability) who kidnap a rock singer. The subject matter alone set it apart – Sir Alan Parker remarked favourably on its “balls and bravery” – though the film was also marked by its infectious energy and the warm cinematography of Stuart Bentley. Five years earlier Clark had made another short on disability, this one a lyrical black and white tale about a deaf Leeds who dreams of becoming a rapper. Of those I’ve seen, I’d say that DEF is Clark’s strongest work to date. Yet, post-Outcasts, his choices have veered increasingly towards to the mainstream. As well as Guinea Pigs there’s been Jenny & the Worm, a cute little short about two kids and a massive earthworm, as well as commissions for the Military Channel (part of the Discovery network) and an episode of the Syfy series Paranormal Witness. Needless to say these latter efforts feel somewhat less personal than DEF or Outcasts, though I guess that says more about the kinds of opportunities available to up-and-coming filmmakers than it does Clark himself.
Guinea Pigs itself is somewhat anonymous which perhaps explains why it’s become the first to emerge from the VSP scheme. Since renamed The Facility (the switch took place in-between the film’s showing at the EIFF and its appearance at the most recent FrightFest), this is a fairly generic affair in which a group of strangers are put within an enclosed space and forced to deal with a series of terrifying situations. It’s a set-up that dates back to James Whale’s The Old Dark House from 1932 and takes in the likes of The Haunting, House on Haunted Hill and so forth. Concentrating solely on British horror, it’s also been used recently for that forgettable Kelly Brook flick House of 9, while Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set had the eureka moment of realising just how adaptable the whole Big Brother concept would be towards such a story. The twist in The Facility’s case is having the scares unfold at an isolated medical centre during a series of clinical trials.
Given the appeal to genre fans, most prospective viewers should recognise a number of the onscreen doctors and test subjects. Between them they’ve clocked up appearances in Doctor Who, Misfits, In the Flesh and so on, with the majority also having occupied a bed in either Casualty or Holby City at some point. Among the more recognisable are Alex Reid, whose Brit horror credentials extend to Wilderness, The Descent and its sequel, and Steve Evets from Rev. and Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric. Jack Doolan (perhaps best known for Cemetery Junction) has also been doing plenty of genre work of late, cropping up recently in Demons Never Die, May I Kill U? and Cockneys vs Zombies. In other words Clark has a group of actors around him with enough experience of hospital dramas and horror pics to handle the demands of his script just fine. And if we’re being fair, the demands aren’t always that major: comply to type (the quiet one, the cocky one, etc.) and kill or be killed at the desired moment.
Indeed, if we’re being entirely honest, then I’d argue that Clark’s heart isn’t entirely in it. He spied an opportunity in the VSP scheme and made himself a calling card. The Facility is best viewed as a demonstration of his ability to deliver professional results on a minimal budget, to work with an ensemble cast and to maintain a firm control on pace and atmosphere. Clark is clearly a talented filmmaker (as has been evident since DEF) and has created a perfectly proficient horror movie. In fact, given current standards and the sheer number of downright awful genre pics being made at the moment, British or otherwise, that alone is enough to elevate his efforts; if you’re after straightforward thrills and nothing more, then The Facility does the job. But if you caught some of those early shorts and expected something a little more personal or touch more distinctive for his feature debut, then you’re likely to come away disappointed. Clark looks set to become a solid, dependable director-for-hire judging by this film and subsequent projects (because that’s where the work is) though hopefully he’ll find himself in a position, in a few years or so, to properly deliver on that promise.
Following a quick run on the festival circuit (EIFF, FrightFest, the Mayhem Festival in Nottingham), The Facility comes to UK DVD courtesy of eOne Momentum. The dual-layered disc holds the main feature plus a 17-minute ‘making of’ plus a selection of trailers for the film itself and others on the same label. The presentation is more serviceable than outstanding, though this may, in part, be a result of the low budget. The image is clean, correctly framed and anamorphically enhanced. The soundtrack, present in DD5.1 form, is sufficiently meaty when it comes to the screams and the scare moments. Optional English subtitles are also available. Unfortunately, the ‘making of’ – which talks primarily to Clark – doesn’t go into much detail beyond explaining each of the characters. As such it’s too full of spoilers to be viewed before the main event yet tells us little we don’t already know once we have.